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Mind Full? Or Mindful? - ASB Task Force on Quality of Life, Health & Wellness

By Lynn D. Hogewood

Mindfulness – are you tired of hearing the word?  Is your mind full?  Or are you mindful?  What does any of this mean anyway?  The word mindfulness and the concept of being mindful have become well-used, perhaps over-used.  Even so, this blogpost is intended to briefly describe what mindfulness is and how practicing mindfulness can promote your health and well-being.

First, what mindfulness is NOT:  mindfulness is not a religion, but certainly, mindful moments can be grounded in religious or spiritual practices.  What mindfulness is:  a common definition from Jon Kabat Zinn is “mindfulness is awareness through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”  Over the years, I have worked with this definition in a way that represents the benefits that I have experienced from cultivating mindfulness in my life.  My own definition is:  mindfulness is intentional awareness of the present moment with curiosity and non-judgment.  I have also heard psychologists describe mindfulness as maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, sensations, and of the surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.  The benefit that comes from mindfulness promotes healthier processing of information, development of character traits, and taking of action steps.

I have done some research into how mindfulness-based practices promote academic success in legal education.  The studies about the effects of mindfulness-based practices have increased significantly in the last 20 years.  The concept entered the legal education realm through a peer-reviewed article in 2002, written by Leonard Riskin, a Professor of Law at the University of Missouri-Columbia.  Since that time, neuroscientists have studied the effects of mindful practices on cognition and learning.  In short, the research shows that mindful practices boost working memory and focus, and mindful practices contribute to good health and vitality of cognitive development in relation to awareness (of self and others), attention (to the moment, to your thoughts and reactions, and to the task at hand), and attitude (like mindset that is reflected in behavior).  Plus, the studies show that mindfulness-based practices reduce stress, regulate emotional reactivity, and decrease anxiety and depression.

From this simple definition of mindfulness and a snapshot of the studies that show the benefits of practicing mindfulness, below are some ways that you can practice mindfulness to promote your health and well-being.  These strategies can take as little as 30 seconds to 30 minutes or 3 hours (or for as long as you would like).  Many guided mindful recordings are available online, and I have included links to a couple of those.

Title Strategy
Take a Deep Breath Intentionally pause.  Inhale – noticing the depth of your breath and the expansion of your lungs.  Exhale – noticing the relaxation of your shoulders and unfurling of your brow.  Repeat for as long as you would like.
Body Scan Intentionally pause.  Starting with the tip of your toes, notice the feeling there.  Move through your ankles, calves, knees, and thighs, and into your hips – noticing (maybe taking a deep breath with each body part that you move through).  Bring your awareness into your torso – your belly, through your chest and heart, into your shoulders, throat and neck.  Relax your jaw line, your eyes and forehead, and let your scan go through the top of your head.
Senses Intentionally pause.  Become aware of your senses – one-by-one.  Notice what your sense of touch is feeling in that moment.  Notice your sense of sight and what you may be seeing.  Notice your sense of smell.  Notice your sense of taste.  Notice what you are hearing.  Scan your senses in any order that suits you.
Gratitude Intentionally pause.  Bring to mind 3 things that you are grateful for.  Notice how your mind and body may experience joy and release tension – even if ever so slightly when you bring to mind this gratitude practice.
Reflection Intentionally pause.  Reflect upon a prior moment – positive or negative — for a deep inhale.  Then, with an exhale, let that prior moment go.  Take another breath in the present moment – with complete awareness of what is happening in the present.

Make time for and seek opportunities to cultivate mindfulness — intentional awareness of the present moment with curiosity and non-judgment.  When you practice mindfulness, you cultivate an ability to experience the richness of the present moment as the rule, rather than the exception.  That connection then leads to better health and well-being.  For connections to and resources for cultivating being mindful and letting go of being mind full, here are links to additional resources: